MAX wants easy ride for bikers

More cyclists are using light rail, and the crowds have caused clashes

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Published August 30, 2007 by The Oregonian 
By PATRICK O'NEILL

More cyclists are using light rail, and the crowds have caused clashes

Oregon–MAX is becoming a victim of its own success.

Ridership on the light-rail system is rising as gas prices remain high, getting more cars off the road. A growing number of those passengers are bicyclists who use the trains, reducing congestion at both ends of their commute.

But when bikers and nonbikers wind up on the same crowded train at rush hour, tempers sometimes flare. TriMet officials are looking for ways to reduce that friction, short of restricting the number of bikes on trains during rush hour.

The growth in MAX ridership and bicycle commuting reflects "two really positive trends," said Eric Hesse, a strategic planning analyst for TriMet.

Morning ridership on the westside light rail is up 6 percent, from an average of 3,960 in spring 2002 to 4,200 this spring. Afternoon rush hour ridership increased 11 percent during the same period, from an average of 4,450 in 2002 to 4,950 this year. The agency doesn't have figures on the number of bicyclists who use light rail.

Early this month, TriMet handed out 3,000 survey forms to MAX riders who brought bikes aboard.

Questions focused on bike riders' starting points and destinations, whether the trains have enough room for bikes and whether more covered bike parking at MAX stations might affect their decision to bring bikes on the train.

But a question about how they would be affected by restricting bikes during rush hour touched off alarm among commuting cyclists.

"We've spent a lot of time in the last couple of weeks assuring people that there's no discussion about a ban right now," Hesse said. "People expressed concern about that."

Planners are looking at a number of possible solutions. They want to know, among other things, whether installing more bike lockers at MAX stations would reduce the number of cycleson the train, Hesse said. The agency might encourage the use of folding bicycles to save space. Finding ways to install more bicycle hooks is also an option.

Each light-rail car (depending on the style) has two designated bike spaces or four hooks where cyclists can hang their bikes out of the way. But sometimes there are far more bikes than hooks.

The survey also will give TriMet its first close look at how MAX riders use bicycles to supplement their light-rail trips. Hesse expects to have the survey information analyzed within the next couple of weeks.

"We have seen a bit of an upswell in concerns being registered with us from both sides of the equation," he said.

Noncyclists have been complaining about being squashed between bicycles during rush hour. Cyclists say TriMet should arrange for more space for bikes.

In June, one MAX rider complained that there were 15 bikes on board, "blocking the aisles, stairwells, doorways and disabled seating areas."

Another expressed concern that bicycles blocking doors on the train would pose a hazard if passengers had to get off the train quickly in an emergency.

Bike riders have their own list of annoyances.

One reported in July that fare inspectors treated him "like a criminal," threatening him with a $94 ticket for blocking the aisle because the designated bike spaces were taken. He told fare inspectors he couldn't wait for another train because he would be late for an appointment.

Another bike rider complained that a MAX driver deliberately closed the doors on his bicycle as he tried to board, then accelerated so quickly "it made me bump into my bike."

Brian Manro, 32, rides his Schwinn Traveler road bike six miles from Southeast Portland to Goose Hollow where he catches the MAX to Beaverton. Then it's another several miles by bike to his office, he says.

Manro, who doesn't own a car, said he doesn't know what he'd do if he couldn't use both his bike and light rail. "Obviously, people who don't have bikes shouldn't be crowded out. But the whole reason MAX was put into place was to reduce congestion."

Patrick O'Neill; 503-221-8233; poneill@news.oregonian.com